Although the United States is arguably in the throes of a heroin epidemic that continues to see overdose deaths, the national attention that the crisis has garnered can be the key to curbing the crisis.
The first primary of the presidential election cycle in New Hampshire gathered nearly all of the Republican presidential candidates to discuss the heroin threat. The momentum of discussing the crisis openly has seemingly not lost steam.
During a recent town hall , Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested that his proposal to build a wall between the United States and Mexico could be the answer to the growing crisis. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has also recently proposed a $10 billion plan to combat heroin and opioid abuse.
“We’re not gonna let this crap come into our country and poison our youth and poison our people, and it comes in mostly from the southern border,” Trump said. “If I win, I’m going to stop heroin from coming into this country. I’m going to get the government of Mexico and other governments to stop it.”
“We get the drugs, they get the money. Big vans coming across, drugs coming in, money going out. Those days are over, folks.”
We're not gonna let this crap come into our country and poison our youth and poison our people.
The increased attention on the crisis has also prompted movement from the federal government, with President Barack Obama prompting Congress to consider legislation aimed at prescription opioid and heroin abuse and overdoses, along with a $1.1 billion proposal to help increase access to treatment for those seeking help. The government has already released $94 million to fund 271 Community Health Centers across the United States to increase substance use disorder treatment services, with a specific focus on expanding medication-assisted treatment of opioid use disorders in underserved communities, according to the White House.
The breadth of the crisis comes as the government is shifting to treat the epidemic as a public health matter, instead of a criminal act. One example is the rise in drug courts. There are more than 3,000 drug courts across the United States that serve as “an alternative to incarceration that connects people with serious substance use disorders or mental health conditions with the treatment that they need,” according to Chris Deutsch, who is the Director of Communications at the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.
“People who are addicted, who are mentally ill, do not get better in prison,” Deutsch told Rare. “We cannot punish them enough to get them to go on and lead product lives. It simply doesn’t work.”
People who are addicted ... do not get better in prison. It simply doesn't work.
The rise in drug courts is reflective of the new national calculation on heroin.
“This is really the first time that we’ve treated addiction like a public health issue within the confines of the justice system,” Deutsch said. “Substance use disorders — these are not moral failings, these are not things that warrant punishment. We have evidence-based treatment that we now know through the research works. And so the goal in drug court is to combine that treatment with accountability and also compassion.”
Rare politics reporter Yasmeen Alamiri and videographers Tolleah Price and Dan Yar spent months researching and reporting this series — traveling to Maryland, New Hampshire and other heroin-torn places while talking and listening to users, police officers, public figures and devastated families all affected by the epidemic. See the full series at on.rare.us/HeroinInAmerica.